Mike Penland has won more Cross Country 4×4 National titles than Gary Denton has won GNC MX & TT titles. With nine National championships to his name, the plucky Rabun Gap, Georgia, native has earned product endorsement deals and name recognition exceeding that of many of the top motocross and TT riders.
Amazingly enough, Mike did not even start racing until he was in his late forties and although he began his career racing dirt bikes, he soon made the switch over to ATVs.
A friend told him about this off-road series that allowed riders to race on Saturdays instead of Sundays. Being a devout Christian, Mike wanted to honor his commitment to God as well as his resolve to race. With the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) events, Mike would be able to do both.

Penland has parlayed his skills as a woods ATV rider to nab the only factory backed sponsorship of a 4×4 rider in the industry. Kawasaki has stepped forward to give Mike one of their new KVF650 V-twin Prairies to race for the 2001 season. We hooked up with Mike while visiting his home state to see what kind of tips he would recommend for setting up one of these all new Prairies for serious trail riding. We also wanted to known any of Penland’s riding secrets for getting through the woods faster on a 4×4 ATV. Here?s what Mike had to say.

“For really deep mud, you want to stay out of existing ruts if possible. Straddle the deepest part of the rut, or if that is not possible, keep your driving wheels on the sides or towards the top of the ruts. Run a gear high if possible and let it pull you through instead of over-revving it. Since my KVF650 uses an automatic transmission all I have to do is keep the power steady and my machine will torque its way through the difficult stuff. You?re always taking a chance flying through water-covered mud holes because you never know how deep the hole is; some of those things can swallow up a quad. So be careful if you don?t know where the bottom is.”

“The secret to doing well in the woods and mud is momentum,” says Penland. “I make sure I have enough forward speed, when I?m going up a steep hill or muddy crossing, that my speed will carry me through the most difficult sections. If there is a bottleneck (a backup of riders on the trail) I?ll look for ways around it before I get to it. With my mighty KVF650 4×4 I know I can usually make my own trail around any pileups on the course.”

“On off-camber trails, you want to always weigh the low-side peg with your foot, even when leaning into the hill. I know it sounds contradictory, but that?s the best way to get across a long off-camber without sliding down to the bottom,”

“Whenever you feel your momentum start to slow down in the mud, you want to start rocking from side-to-side before you come to a dead stop.Transfer your weight to the wheels biting the most and rock the quad through. I also run Multi-Seal in the wheels to keep from getting any flats. That stuff really works in preventing flats.”

“If all else fails, get off the machine and walk it through the worst parts of a mud section. Keep the throttle smooth and steady and let it pull you through the slippery stuff. Don?t just sit on your quad and dig yourself in deeper. Make sure you always carry a tow rope or spare tie-down to help get you out of the worst of the mud bogs, and don?t be afraid to ask for help or offer it.”